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Blog of Sarah McIntyre, children's book writer & illustrator
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1. draw it! colour it! beasts

A whole bunch of us have a new activity/colouring book coming out on 8 Sept, Draw It! Colour It! Beasts! Here's my two pages in it:

You can pre-order it on lots of book websites or you can buy our first book now, Draw It! Colour It! Creatures. It's fun being included with so many other amazing illustrators.

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2. #picturesmeanbusiness: herald scotland

If you're in Scotland, look out for a copy of today's Herald, I have an article in it! You can also read it online here:

herald article

Yesterday's #PortraitChallenge got me fired up to do some more pictures with actual paint. I've been doing a lot of digital work, and sometimes digital works best for me, but then I miss working with real paper in front of me the whole time. Here's a not-very-accurate self portrait, painted in watercolour, and when it was just pencil linework.

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3. thursday #portraitchallenge: ignatius sancho by allan ramsay

Here's my #PortraitChallenge for today! It's a 1750s portrait of Ignatius Sancho, painted by Allan Ramsay. (You can find out more about it here.) Check @StudioTeaBreak to see other people's drawings!

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4. reeve & mcintyre book 4... finished!

I finally finished illustrating my upcoming book with Philip Reeve, Jinks & O'Hare Funfair Repair!

The book's not finished; Jo Cameron still has to do a lot of placement work with all the files I've had to fix because there were little picture mistakes, and Liz Cross is checking with the proof reader that there aren't any text mistakes, and then it has to go the printer, etc. With Cakes in Space, Liz, Clare Whitston and Jo had to send the books back to the printer because I'd used SO much heavy ink with all the black outer-space stuff that the pages didn't have enough time to dry and went wrinkly! (But the printer fixed it and everything was okay in the end.)

For Bologna Book Fair, the OUP book team printed up a sampler with the first three chapters, so here's a little peek at them. These are what are called the 'endpapers', even though they're right in the beginning and set the scene.

Philip really likes the slappy satellite. (I'm not sure why it's slappy, I just stuck a glove on it to make it look more interesting.)

And here's Emily, in her bedroom on Funfair Moon!

Emily's based very much on my studio mate Elissa Elwick and Emily wants to be a funfair engineer more than anything in the world. (Not our world, an alien world that's all funfair.)

That's Elissa on the right in the yellow, celebrating with cake, and craft team Lauren O'Farrell (who designed the knitted Pug, Sea Monkey and Jampire patterns) and her working partner Sami Teasdale.

The book doesn't come out 'til September but I'm already excited! Go go Jo and Liz and book team! :D

Edit: Here's a photo just in from designer Jo, who is ON THE CASE! :D

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5. scottish friendly children's book tour 2016

All this week I've been on an illustration book tour of the Scottish Highlands! At first I thought I was going to have to do it solo, but I asked Beth Bottery at Scottish Book Trust if I could bring Stuart along and she said yes. Then all my knitted book characters decided they wanted to come along, too.

This is the first time I've ever gone on an extended tour with Stuart! And he wasn't just tagging along, he was WORKING. In fact, I thought I'd let him do the blogging. So... OVER TO STUART:

Hi, everyone! My first job was help Doug the Pug sharpen up his drawing skills in anticipation of all the pictures he was going to be making during the course of the week. He drew some pictures on the train.

Here's one he did of me!

And here's one he did of the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. You can't get more Scottish than that.

Our first port of call was GLASGOW, to see Sarah's auntie.

On Sunday, Beth Bottery and Thomas Jefferson from Scottish Book Trust came to pick us up and drove us all the way to Thurso, right in the north of Scotland.

Here they are in the wilds of the Highlands.

Here are a couple of snapshots of Thurso in late evening.

MONDAY, 9 May:

My first stage appearance was at Mount Pleasant Primary School in Thurso (coordinated by Suzanne Urquhart) and Pennyland Primary came along, too. Here I am with Sarah in my new role as PROFESSOR SNOWSTORM!

I'm supposed to know a lot about the different types of snow in Sarah and Philip Reeve's book Pugs of the Frozen North. Being on stage was exciting but also a bit nerve-racking. Luckily I didn't mess up too many of my lines.

Here are some books the children made in advance, which are pretty impressive.

For the afternoon, Miller Academy Primary School (and Pat Ramsay) hosted us, along with visiting school Melvich Primary. At each visit we created a board game, featuring a race to the North Pole from the school. We wanted to give them ideas on creating a story, how (like a board game) it needs a beginning, an end, and perils in the middle. This group game up with some really unusual perils, culminating in the greatest peril: Donald Trump.

We also met Reading Champion Alex Patience, who works with the kids on this reading scheme.

On a beautiful evening - tropical for Thurso! - Sarah made a new friend named Kali.


We visited Castletown Primary School, just outside Thurso, with the visit coordinated by Rhona Moodie. Having a day's practice, I was beginning to get into my character a bit more. Things didn't seem to be quite so scary, particularly when the class was a bit smaller.

Tom took us to a roadside cafe for lunch, just outside Wick, The Rumblin' Tum. It felt like something you might find in the Australian outback.

Sarah took this photo of Tom and me and mystery guest in the background.

In the afternoon, we were at Noss Primary School (which was only a few weeks old!), with Watten Primary visiting. Headmaster Ally Budge had really researched Sarah and Beth told us he'd filled out the application form for the visit in Russian! (Sarah and I both speak some Russian.) This was our largest event yet, with more than 200 children. The school gave Sarah a very thoughtful Russian-themed gift, Baggage by Marshak & Lebedev.

We drove on to Tain and stayed in the Royal Hotel, which was very grand.

Tain was lovely, with some very striking buildings.

We had dinner at the restaurant at Tain railway station. Sarah shot this video because she thought Beth had a wonderful Hull accent.

During the week the four of us did some drawing challenges. Here's our #ShapeChallenge drawings. (Can you guess who drew which one?) Sarah sets daily Shape Challenges on Twitter which you can discover at @StudioTeaBreak.


In the morning we visited Knockbreck Primary School in Tain (coordinated by Mhairi Miller), with Dornoch Academy visiting. Sarah drew this picture of her and Doug the Pug but she forgot to take any more photos.

After lunch, we headed to Strathpeffer Primary School (hosted by Carolyn Ritchie and Mr Spence), with visiting school Mulbuie St Clements.

The afternoon was so sunny that we sat out on the lawn of our hotel and did a Comic Jam together. Here are some teaching videos if you want to learn how to do a Comic Jam in your school.

Beth shot this video of the Comic Jam at different stages.


Our first stop was Teanassie Primary School (with Sharon Gallacher), with visiting school Beauly Primary, which was our most intimate event with just over 30 children. When we drove in, we saw the chickens and three pigs the school raise.

Everyone on our tour loved knitted Doug the Pug, designed by Lauren O'Farrell (aka Deadly Knitshade). Here's the link if anyone wants to download the free pattern from Sarah's website. And here are some of the pugs the children drew at Teanassie:

In the afternoon we arrived in Inverness to visit Drakies Primary School (coordinated by Rebecca Fleming), with visiting school Bun-sgoil Ghàidhlig Inbhir Nis. Drakies were very excited about the visit and prepared some posters to advertise Sarah's event to the other children. Sarah was so pleased!

Drakies even tweeted to Sarah before the event (@DrakiesPS). She loves it when teachers and pupils prepare things before the visit and this group made lots of great stuff.

Even after the visit, this mum sent us a picture which made us all go 'Awww'.

On Sarah's drawing challenge @StudioTeaBreak, Thursday is #PortraitChallenge day. Here's a family portrait of pop stars if they were animals.


My costume for the week included wearing this pair of yellow trousers. Don't park on my double yellow lines!

For our final day, we began at Crown Primary School in Inverness, organised by James Cook.

The school had a blog up by the same evening! We got some very encouraging feedback from the teachers, including one who said in twelve years of teaching, it was the best event she had seen and gave the teachers lots of ideas of things to do with the kids later.

And finally, Hilton Primary School (with Amy Fraser) and visiting school Cradlehall Primary. We received a warm welcome from the dinner ladies!

The dinner ladies even baked us banana flapjack! This was our biggest event. It will be funny telling my colleagues back at work what I've been doing all week.

Here are cards Sarah drew for Tom and Beth, thanking them for all their hard work. Thank you very much, guys!! And to all the schools who hosted us, Scottish Book Trust, and our sponsors Scottish Friendly.

This was a never-to-be-forgotten week! It gave me a whole new perspective of Sarah's work. I hope all the children we met go away and do a lot more drawing, writing and reading. I might try to do some more drawing, too!

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6. almost finished

I've almost finished illustrating Jinks & O'Hare Funfair Repair! I ought to celebrate by tidying my desk.

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7. happy birthday, little sister!

We love each other, really, but we have odd ways of showing it.

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8. bodiam castle

Today was Bank Holiday Monday and Stuart and I hiked from Robertsbridge rail station to Bodiam Castle in Sussex.

Bodiam's great, it's sort of how you imagine a castle to be when you're a kid. A real classic.

I just thought I'd post a few photos in case you're ever considering taking a trip there. You can even get a steam train from Tenterden station; maybe we'll try that some other time.

Old graffiti in one of the towers:

Yay bluebells!

Twitter tells this is a raft of some sort.

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9. #portraitchallenge: lady shakespeare

Well, that's my fancy dress sorted for Shakespeare's 400th birthday party! Today's #PortraitChallenge was this engraving by Martin Droeshout, tweeted by the British Museum. Their website says it's 'from the Third Folio of Shakespeare’s works of 1663–1664 and was originally engraved for the title page to the First Folio, published in 1623. It is therefore one of the earliest portraits of Shakespeare.' (Read more here.) Lots of people have taken part; check out their pictures over at @StudioTeaBreak!

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10. #portraitchallenge: gainsborough's georgiana

Thursday's #PortraitChallenge was Thomas Gainsborough's famous portrait of Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire (which I've seen on a visit to Chatsworth House). Mine's a Pegasus-wrangling cowgirl because why not. :) You can find out more about portraits and #PortraitChallenge here on my earlier blog post.

Visit @StudioTeaBreak on Twitter to see a gallery of everyone's drawings! We're back to the #ShapeChallenge today. Do jump in, all ages and drawing abilities are very welcome! It's fun seeing whole families get involved. I love seeing all the variations!

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11. announcing... THE PRINCE OF PANTS!

HURRAH!! I'm finally allowed to share the new Scholastic UK book I have coming out in September... with writer Alan MacDonald... THE PRINCE OF PANTS!!!

I've had SOOO much fun working on this book, it's a great big loony feast of PANTS and strange corgis and fat ponies and lots more... Here's one of the pages of watercolour artwork on my desk: little Prince Pip trying to find out where all his pants have disappeared to.

Now here's a funny thing: I had a contract to do a picture book with Scholastic UK and I was so busy on the Pugs book that when the time rolled around, my editor Pauliina Malinen was like, 'So where's your picture book text?' And I was like, 'UH.' And then, 'I'll write one, let me get back to you soon!!' And Pauliina was like, 'Well... I have this absolutely amazing script from Alan MacDonald that you could illustrate, I think it's perfect for you.' And I was like, 'No no no, I'm going to write my own book, just you see. ...But hey wait, let me just have a little peek at it anyway.'

And then I read it. And started laughing.

And suddenly saw all the awesome ways Alan had packed in room for me to make loads of little visual jokes and I was like, 'Oh my goodness, I HAVE to illustrate this book, gimme gimme gimme'. And Pauliina was thrilled, and my new designer Strawberrie Donnelly has turned out to be ACE to work with. I'm proud that we got their names in the credits, too!

The Prince of Pants doesn't come out until September - arghh!! (here's a Hive pre-order page and Waterstones) - but in the meantime, I'm going to TRACK DOWN THAT ALAN MACDONALD because weirdly I have still never met him and it feels bizarre not having met my co-author. Lucky Alan is in for a McIntyre Invasion.

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12. intrigues on romney marsh: the body on the doorstep

Huge congratulations to the two writers who are AJ MacKenzie, whose exciting-looking book comes out today! I first met Canadian husband-wife team Marilyn Livingstone & Morgen Witzel at the wonderful Emirates Festival of Literature in Dubai; we spent a lot of meals together and they were fascinating. Morgan had some great tales about growing up in the wilds of British Columbia and Marilyn's been writing as a medieval historian for 25 years; she and Morgan decided to try something new, diving into the 18th century and trying their hand at crime fiction, something page-turning and fast-paced but still very much grounded in history.

the body on the doorstep

Here's the cover art, designed by Jet Purdie (who won and had two titles shortlisted for the most recent Kitschies Inky Tentacle cover awards) and he commissioned the illustration from Head Design. And here's the blurb:

Shocked to discover a dying man on his doorstep - and lucky to avoid a bullet himself - Reverend Hardcastle finds himself entrusted with the victim's cryptic last words. With smuggling rife on England's south-east coast, the obvious conclusion is that this was a falling out among thieves. But why is the leader of the local Customs service so reluctant to investigate? Ably assisted by the ingenious Mrs Chaytor, Hardcastle sets out to solve the mystery for himself. But smugglers are not the only ones to lurk off the Kent coast, and the more he discovers, the more he realises he might have bitten off more than he can chew.

I had a couple questions for AJ MacKenzie:

Marilyn and Morgan, I can't wait to read this new book! What are a couple of the most exciting bits of the history that made you want to write it?

The 1790s were quite a dangerous and (if you don’t have to live in them) exciting time. Romney Marsh, where The Body on the Doorstep is set, was rife with smuggling and dark nights would see parties of smugglers landing on the beaches and carrying cargoes of gin and brandy inland over the Marsh, pursued by the Preventive men, the law enforcement officers of the day.

Then there was the threat of invasion from France, which by the mid-1790s was becoming very real. There is a earlier Hogarth print at the Fitzwilliam Museum that shows hordes of ravening Frenchmen threatening to descend on England:

It looks sort of comical, but in fact the threat was very real and was taken seriously; there were plenty of invasion scares. From Romney Marsh, you can see the French coast on a clear day. In the next picture, the line of clouds is where France begins; it’s only about thirty-five miles.

A lot of French refugees washed up on the coast of Kent after the French Revolution began. But which refugees were genuinely fleeing the Terror, and which ones were actually enemy agents? A lot of this begins to sound rather familiar, doesn’t it?

Finally, there were a few historical characters we could bring in and play with. One was the painter JMW Turner, just starting out on his illustrious career. During the early 1790s, Turner often came to the Kent coast to paint the sea. This is one of his early works, Fishermen at Sea, on show at the Tate. The Tate say this was painted near the Isle of Wight. But who is to say he didn’t make a little unrecorded trip to Romney Marsh around the same time?

'Fishermen at Sea' by Turner, 1796 from Tate Britain collection

Where and how you and Morgen work?

We work in all sorts of places. What we don’t tend to do is lock ourselves in a room and write together. There are several reasons for this; chief among them being that we both listen to music as we write, but very different kinds of music. Marilyn likes mathematical music like Bach and Purcell, or modern performers like Ms Dynamite. Morgen listens to gloomy Central European music from the late nineteenth century. Each person’s music would drive the other crazy.

In fact we mostly work by talking, working out plots and characters and ideas and conversations, and we can do that anywhere. We often sit opposite each other in these two chairs in our sitting room, talking and reading text to each other.

If the weather is fine (not always a given in the West Country) we go outside. The beaches of west Cornwall and the tors of Dartmoor are some of our favourite places to work.

After all, we live in a beautiful part of the world; why not take advantage of it for inspiration and ideas?

Thanks, guys! You can read a lot more about The Body on the Doorstep and The Romney Marsh Mysteries over on the AJ MacKenzie website and blog. And you can follow them on Twitter: @AJMacKnovels. (They're very friendly; feel free to ask them questions.) Right now you can buy the first book in hardcover and for Kindle, and the paperback comes out in August. (I ordered mine from Tales on Moon Lane, through the Hive Books button on the AJ MacKenzie website.) Published by Zaffre.

Age appropriateness: Aimed at adults but might be accessible to high-school/secondary-school kids and secondary school libraries. No sex, some violence, quite a lot of bad language (mostly f***).

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13. scottish book trust: apology for pugs

Uh... did you see Johnny Depp and his wife saying sorry for smuggling their pet dogs into Australia? It was a bit strange.

Well, I'm doing a Pugs of the Frozen North book tour of the Scottish Highlands in May, and Scottish Book Trust are already issuing their own apologies...

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14. jungle book in the guardian

Disney gave The Guardian newspaper some money to commission illustrations reimagining The Jungle Book, so thanks to editor Sian Cain, Philip Reeve and I jumped in! You can see it online here. Visit the links to see how other people have illustrated it!

Jungle Book

Here's Philip's full description:

It must be forty years since I read The Jungle Book (I never saw the classic Disney version as a child - only a couple of clips which were forever turning up on Screen Test). A lot of the detail of the story escapes me now, but there are a few scenes which must have made a deep impression, since they still spring vividly to mind; Akela and the council of wolves deciding little Mowgli's fate, and the overgrown ruins called the Cold Lairs where the moneys live. But my favourite element as a child was Mowgli's relationship with the bear Baloo and the black panther Bagheera, which I think is at the heart of the book's appeal. Most children love animal stories, but the animals in The Jungle Book aren't the domesticated, clothes-wearing sort you meet in other books of the period. Baloo and Bagheera feel like real animals, big, and fierce, and dangerous - yet they accept Mowgli as their friend; he gets to hunt and play and laze about with them, and it's they who come to his rescue when he's captured by those pesky monkeys. I'm not sure if he snuggles up with them as cosily as he has in Sarah's illustration, but that's what I would have liked to do.

And here's the trailer for the new film:

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15. happy birthday, jampires co-author!

Love that David O'Connell! Enough to put a cake on his head.

Original photo by Dave Warren

Actually, I did bake a cake, a real carrot cake. Possibly my first cake I've baked in at least five years. With Kinder eggs on top, it looked like a dinosaur nest.

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16. #sketchbooksocial!

I only took a patchy selection of photos at last night's #SketchbookSocial, part of London Book & Screen Week, but you can check the #SketchbookSocial hashtag to see lots more from other people!

I stopped by Atlantis art supply on the way there and got some big chunky pastels. Always best to use totally unfamiliar materials when you're doing a spot of live drawing, ha ha...

The #PicturesMeanBusiness campaign for people to credit illustrators got a good mention, and Society of Authors has just now posted a plug for it.

Thanks so much to Katherine Woodfine and Claire Shanahan for organising! I hope it happens again! :)

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17. #portraitchallenge: irish king brian boru

Today's Portrait Challenge drawing for @StudioTeaBreak, based on a photo tweeted by @castledublin.

Brian Boru

I don't think the sculptor is known, but you can find out more about Brian Boru here, and see how other people have gone about drawing him on the #PortraitChallenge hashtag!

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18. welcome to the comic jam! how to use the 4 book trust videos

Can you remember the last time you were given a blank piece of paper and told to ‘write a story’ or ‘draw a picture’? It can be an unpleasant experience, especially when your brain refuses to cooperate, but it’s part of daily life for school children. Some decide this means they hate writing or loathe drawing. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Here's an introduction to a series of four Book Trust videos about making comics, which can be used as an school classroom lesson (ages 8+), or just for fun at home.

Article originally published in Teach Primary magazine, 2015

Children naturally connect with making comics. There’s something about the combination of drawing and writing that pulls them through the process of creating a story, and it’s more fun than trying to fill a page with writing alone.

In making a four-panel comic we can explore the basics of story structure, characterisation, plot, motivation and dialogue. And comics are a great medium for engaging kids who have a diverse range of skills and needs.

If a child’s drawing isn’t all that great, he or she can enhance basic stick figures with clever writing and it will still tell a story. If children can hardly write a word of English, they can tell a story in pictures, and get help when they decide they need a sound effect here or there.

Reluctant writers are likely to enjoy the energetic nature of comics and the freedom that speech and thought bubbles provide. In a workshop film I’ve produced for children’s reading charity, Book Trust (available free online here), I start with a little tutorial on how to draw a Sea Monkey, a funny, incidental character in Oliver and the Seawigs, my illustrated chapter book with Philip Reeve. If the children have read the book, they’ll enjoy seeing one of its characters going on to have further adventures. (And even if they haven’t read the book, it’s still fun to draw Sea Monkeys.) How often have you finished a great book and wished you could keep following the characters, even though the story has ended?

In the first of the four videos, I walk the class through the process of creating a character they feel is their own. The kids can decide its name, how it will look, which kind of cheese it prefers, how it brushes its hair / scales / fur. It’s like having a new friend, or a beloved pet. They warm to it, and it looks back at them from the page.

Give your creators the tools

I used to think that step-by-step drawing lessons would stunt creativity by making kids think it’s the only way to draw something, but I’ve been surprised to discover the reverse is true: when people learn how to put together simple shapes and come up with an engaging character, it gives them some basic building blocks and the confidence to tailor those shapes into countless other character drawings. Add a moustache, a hat, give it bushy eyebrows, a tutu… suddenly their little creature looks very different.

After the children have created their characters, in Video 2, I give them tips for making effective comics. In Video 3, we have a ‘Comic Jam’ session where the class participates in a story-making game. I lead the class through dividing their paper into four comic panels, and then start them off drawing the first of these. After five minutes, I’ll have the children swap papers and each child will begin working on someone else’s comic for another five minutes. Three swaps and 20 minutes later, each child will have a finished four-panel comic, which is then returned to the original author so they can see what kind of adventure their character has been on.

From the Year 3 group at Tupton Primary School in Chesterfield

Besides being fun, I’ve found the Comic Jam can be a strong learning exercise in these ways. It can:

1. Teach clarity

The children learn that their storytelling has to be comprehensible to another person. If they get someone else’s comic and find it’s not clear what’s happening, they begin to comprehend what it’s like when their own stories aren’t clearly told. They realise that what they see in their heads has to go onto the paper, or others will struggle to understand. And they see the importance of writing legibly.

2. Thicken plots
Writing comics is a good practice in storytelling: children have to think ‘in this situation, what might happen next?’; random events aren’t as funny or interesting as events that have some sort of logical progression. They learn about the importance of creating a setting for their characters.

3. Set a good pace

A comic jam helps pace the lesson. If each child created his or her own comic, you’d have some children finishing in three minutes while others would still be working on the first panel at the end of the session. The game helps slow down children who work too quickly (“Now think, what else could you put in that scene?”) and speeds up children who might be so precious about their work that they never finish. A comic jam is more about communicating than making perfect artwork.

4. Create new possibilities
Because multiple authors are working on the same comic, children see how stories can take different turns. The sequences might be action-packed or slow and reflective. They might be funny, sad, or very ordinary. There’s no set way to tell a story, and comics help children to understand this. By taking on a character someone else has created, pupils are also forced to empathise.

5. Inspire different endings
The children get a chance to reflect on what they’ve created. If they like the way their story has turned out, they can use it as inspiration for making more comics in a similar vein. If they hate what happened to their character they may feel indignant. But even that negative feeling can be inspiring; they can now go and create the story they envisioned – the ‘wrong’ ending having shown them the way forward.

Young comic publishers Jordan Vigay and Jonny Toons at work on a Comic Jam at the annual Thought Bubble comics festival in Leeds

Finally in Video 4, children can sing along with a Sea Monkey sea shanty. Ending with a song gives a fun, noisy finale to a focused story session, but it also shows children that their characters don’t have to stay on paper. Stories can find life in many different forms – songs, animations, puppets, and theatre – any of which may be less daunting to children than the blank white page.

A note about participants with autism: empathising with someone else’s character may be hard for them, and they may balk at having to relinquish their work to someone else. In severe cases, it might be better for this person to work on his or her own comic, keeping the same panel-by-panel pace as the other people in the room.

Age appropriateness: Some children under 8 will be able to make comics (particularly with one-on-one adult help) but I've found that as a group, children under the age of 8 struggle to have enough literacy to make their work understandable to each other without explanation. Many also get upset when they have to swap papers, seeing someone else drawing on 'their' paper. While younger children will enjoy learning how to draw the Sea Monkey in Video 1 and singing the song in Video 4, I recommend sticking to ages 8+ for the Comic Jam in Videos 2 & 3.

Find out more about Book Trust’s primary writing project The Write Book – and access the four videos of Sarah’s Comics Jam film workshop in the classroom here on the Book Trust website.

Video 2 of 4

I also created a picture book that started out as a Comic Jam with my friend David O'Connell! It's called Jampires and you can read more Comic Jam tips over at jampires.com.

My comics include Vern and Lettuce, and the Shark & Unicorn strip in The Funday Times. Find lots of tips on my FAQ page and follow me on Twitter: @jabberworks

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19. carnegie occupation: save libraries!

You know the library closure situation is bad when people are actually locking themselves into doomed libraries and refusing to leave. That's exactly what's happening with the #CarnegieOccupation and these people have been in the Carnegie Library in Herne Hill, southeast London for five days and not planning to leave until it's saved from Lambeth Council-led ideas of turning it into a gym.

When I visited today, the protesters at the front gate explained to me that there are lots of gyms in the area, and this library was given to the people by Carnegie, not the council; they claim the council have no right to take it away from them. They said that the council thought they could leave some shelves with books, and still call that a library - 'a healthy living centre with a self-service neighbourhood library' are the words on the council library website - but the book area would be unstaffed. They were frustrated that the council was trying to call this book area a library, arguing that a space with books isn't a library unless there are librarians present. (Too right!)

I wasn't sure if the occupiers would have enough to eat after five days, but when I got there, I saw that the community have been great about keeping them stocked up with food and toiletries. What they need most is publicity for the cause, so the Carnegie Library and others don't quietly disappear. The council and the government need to realise libraries are a BIG DEAL in their communities, and they need MORE funds to stay up to date with modern times, not budget slashing and closures.

Here's a poster I drew for the protest, based on a poster I'd designed earlier (which you can download free here). Some people argue that the Internet makes libraries irrelevant; you can find information and buy books cheaply online. But if you plonk a kid in front of a computer to do their homework, they're not going to know how to find good information other than what Wikipedia and Google turn up. How can they know which sources are helpful and reliable, or do more than copy and paste? How will they even know what 'a reliable source' means?

This argument also assumes everyone has access to the Internet, computing equipment of some sort, and at least a little bit of money and a credit card to buy cheap books. But this isn't the case, library closures deeply affect the poorest and most vulnerable. Many of them need the library for a safe and warm place to study, free access to books and computers, the guidance of librarians, and a wide range of other services, depending on the local area and their needs.

The area closest to my heart is children's books: kids go through SO MANY books when they're young, more than even most well-off parents can be expected to buy. One quality picture book will cost well over a fiver, and a young child will easily read 20 in a week; a 10-year-old in a week might read five or more novels. Kids need a wide range of books coming at them constantly, not one book every year for their birthdays.

(When the kids in Carnegie Library found out I made books, they rushed back inside to see if the library had any and brandished them victoriously. We had a nice little chat about how I create the pictures in When Titus Took the Train.)

The #CarnegieOccupation are looking for support and it's great to see them getting it from other groups, such as this tweeted photo from the Lambeth Library staff. One of the protesters told me that none of the occupiers in the Carnegie are library staff; they said they wanted to protect its staff from losing their jobs, and it's non-employees who really need to speak up.

You can read more about library cuts in the recent BBC report on library closures, with exact figures, a grim read. (Go there first if you're going to follow any of the links here.)

I don't only want to focus on London libraries - so many more isolated communities need their libraries just as much if not more - but the #CarnegieOccupation seems to have hit a real nerve with people and the media coverage can lead a lot more people to consider their own libraries and decide how much they value them.

You can get updates on #CarnegieOccupation by following the Twitter hashtag, you can read a BBC article on it here, an Evening Standard article here, a BuzzFeed article here and an article in The Bookseller here.

You can sign a CILIP library services petition about library closures overall at the My Library By Right website.

The official demonstration Twitter account seems to be @DefendtheTen (here's the Defend the Ten website, and Carry On Carnegie - a blog run by young occupiers) and @SaveLambthLibs; I've seen tweets of support from the Society of Authors (@Soc_of_Authors) and CILIP library services (@CILIPinfo).

Best wishes, Carnegie Library, I hope you win this one.

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20. piccassoid coffee break

Here's my latest #ShapeChallenge drawing. (See more here; a lot of Daleks today!)

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21. oxford lit fest 2016

Even though two of my three publishers are based in Oxford and I go there often for meetings and such, the town has a special magic to it that never really goes away.

This year for Oxford Literary Festival, I got to stay in Exeter College and have breakfast in their dining hall, which was pretty awesome. (Also slightly embarrassing because I didn't have time to get into costume after breakfast, and the few people in there were too polite to ask questions.)

The very first event I went to, I got to sit in the audience to hear Philip Womack interview Philip Reeve and Frances Hardinge.

Here they are, getting papped by festival photographer KT Bruce. (You can see her photos here on Facebook.)

Philip talked about his new Railhead book and Frances, about The Lie Tree, which deservedly has got lots of press lately when it won the overall Costa Award. They're both brilliant books, I recommend them to adults and teenagers alike.

Respect to Philip Womack: moderating an event is much harder to do and takes more time with research than talking about one's own books. I wish I could have heard him talk a bit more about his book The Broken King but at least I managed to nab the bookseller's last copy.

On the way out, I finally met Katherine Rundell, author of Rooftoppers, which beat out Oliver and the Seawigs for the Blue Peter Prize.. and I didn't mind, because it turned out to be very good! (If it had been bad, I would have been FURIOUS!) ;D

I was too caught up in my Pugs of the Frozen North event with Philip to get any good photos of the Story Museum setting, but we had a good crowd and a great time, and I recognised a certain pug hat from World Book Day dressing-up photos I'd seen on Twitter:

The pugs in the back of our book all have names, but Philip and I loved how these girls found the unnamed pugs at the beginning of the books and gave them all their own names!

Here's a little close-up. Pimples, Macaroon and Sticky Tack are all very fine names.

Another girl had started writing a sequel to Pugs of the Frozen North, called Pugs of the Special Spring. We hope she keeps going with it!

Ah, and evidence of another World Book Day Pug costume. Love the pug costumes.

After our event, I changed out of Pugs gear into something a bit more comfortable and ran into James Mayhew back in the Green Room. James does live drawings at concerts with full orchestras backing him, which sounds incredibly daunting, but he pulls it off with panache.

Oo, and it's Cathy Brett, who was waiting for Jo Cotterill to arrive to do their event about Electrigirl, their book that's not quite a comic, not quite a novel, sort of a mix of several things.

My second event was right next to the awe-inspiring Sheldonian Theatre with its mad-looking heads.

And right there at the base of the theatre, it was so great to see people reading my Dinosaur Police book.

Inside the Blackwell's Marquee, I read from Dinosaur Police and then taught everyone how to draw silly T-Rex characters. We got some good ones from people of all ages!

Here's Andrea Reece who organised the children's part of the festival and invited Philip and me. Thank you so much, Andrea!!

We had dinner with Andrea, our fabulous OUP publicist Harriet Bayly, Philip Womack and Seonaid MacLeod (pronounced 'Shona'), who was at the festival bigging up a Reading Ambassadors scheme, promoting reading for pleasure. Besides the great company at Brasserie Blanc, we got to order a Baked Alaska, which we hadn't had since Philip and I first signed our contract for Oliver and the Seawigs. And it was JUST AS TASTY.

Right before I headed back to the station, I stopped by the Eagle & Child pub (where the Inklings used to meet) to see friends Sally Nicholls and her new baby, comics friends Jenni Scott & Richard Buck and their kids, and my amazing OUP designer Jo Cameron. The kids were very excited and sitting is hard in a pub, so we ended up doing lots of drawing, which always suits me just fine!

(You can find out about more of my events over on the events page of my website.)

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22. #portraitchallenge: mary beale

Thursday is #PortraitChallenge day at the Virtual Studio! Here's London National Portrait Gallery's self-portrait of Mary Beale, from around 1665. She's considered England's first female professional painter (how cool is that?) and you can read more about here.

Here's the original:

And another interpretation by Dave Windett!

Keep an eye on @StudioTeaBreak and #PortraitChallenge to see if more drawings turn up. :)

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23. save libraries: free posters to print!

Last night I made some posters for the London #CarnegieOccupation march from Carnegie Library to Minet Library at 11:30 this Saturday (9 April):

But then Minet Library asked if they could have copies of the posters, too! So here are some downloadable versions. I wasn't sure how many libraries would have colour printers, but if you have a coloured marker, it shouldn't take too long to fill in the bubble lettering.

Download in A3 size
Download in A4 size
Download in US letter size

Download in A3 size
Download in A4 size
Download in US letter size

Feel free to use these posters in any non-commercial way that promotes libraries. (And I'd appreciate a credit, just because I'm an illustrator and you should always credit illustrators.) :) If you get a chance, I'd love it if you'd leave a note in the comments, saying where you are, and if you're using it in any particular library. Here's are links to download earlier posters I drew:

Download in A3 size
Download in A4 size
Download in US Letter size
Download A3 in WELSH
Download A4 in WELSH

Download A3 size
Download A4 size
Download US Letter size
Download A3 in WELSH
Download A4 in WELSH

Download in A3 size
Download in A4 size
Download in US Letter size

Download square version (A4 or resize)

These are harrowing times for our libraries; let's hope the government listens!

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24. #savelibraries: carnegie library protest march

So I've been arrested for outrageous library-saving behaviour and am writing this from Brixton jail... (no, not really). Today's #CarnegieOccupation protest march was very peaceful but there was NO DOUBT of people's passion for their libraries, the Carnegie (which had been occupied for over a week), Minet Library and other libraries under threat.

With a big ceremonial unlocking of the front gate, the occupiers came out to big cheers for the commitment they'd shown trying to rescue the library from the council's plan to turn it into a gym. The (Labour!) council's scheme seemed hair-brained: the library group had worked hard to come up with a reasonable business plan and the council had turned it down for lack of funds, but then suggested throwing millions at the building to turn it into a private gym with what appeared to be no organised business plan.

The council argued that they'd just push the books to the side, keeping it a library, but here's author Alan Gibbons arguing that a room with books in it is just a room, without a trained librarian, it's not a library. (Also there were questions about kids being allowed to hang out in a gym, who would look after the books, restock, etc.)

A group called 'Defend the Ten' have been arguing the case for all ten libraries in the London borough of Lambeth, and you can follow them on Twitter: @defendtheten.Quite a few writers and illustrators were able to come along, and it was great to see Francesca Simon, who had argued for libraries the previous evening on Channel Four:

Here's Francesca (author of the Horrid Henry books) with presenter Cathy Newman, and Kate Anderson who was arguing that libraries are passé. (Francesca said she thought Kate saw libraries only as a place to work on a research paper and probably hadn't been to one since university.)

Not everyone was able to make it, but they were present IN SPIRIT. (Yes, you, Ardagh.) Here's my studio mate Gary Northfield, author of the Julius Zebra books (in front of author Stella Duffy, who gave one of the speeches).

Sometimes I go to rallies and see people all with identical signs that the union or political party have given out, but this wasn't like that; a lot of people had put thought into creating their own unique signs, which was fabulous.

I loved the kids' signs, and there were SO MANY KIDS there! I do think the case for libraries is a no-brainer when we're talking about kids and books; there's no way even middle-class parents can keep up with the amount of books their kids go through. Some kids will read twenty or more books every week. And I've seen on my own royalty statements that a very, very small percentage of those books are e-books, they're almost all printed books. Books don't need batteries; if you throw one into the bath (as I did when I was two) it's not several hundred pounds worth of tech ruined.

Can I tell you HOW chuffed I was to see the signs I'd created? ...VERY CHUFFED. It almost felt like an Easter egg hunt, spotting them.

Oo, there's another one! :D

(You can download a range of them free if you click here.)

So I'm really curious what's going to happen to Carnegie Library now that the protestors have gone. Will Lambeth Council think twice about their screwball plan?

From what I hear, Carnegie Library was getting a lot of use and a real hub of organised community activities. We marched to Minet Library, also closed down and scheduled to become a 'healthy living centre'. I was talking with a fellow protester later in a cafe who said that the idea behind turning these libraries into gyms is that they're not allowed to take them down and rebuild them if they're libraries. (And Carnegie Library was a 'gift to the people', not to the council.) But if the council can get the designated usage changed, then they can do what they like. (I don't know if this is true but it sounds plausible.)

So many awesome signs!

I recognised this sign from @StudioTeaBreak online community's @MrsJTeaches!

We finished the rally in Brixton, by the Ritzy Cinema, in front of the Tate Central Free Library.

Here's an 11-year-old reading a surprisingly powerful piece of poetry she'd composed for the protest.

Still sign spotting...

Lovely author supporters! Amanda Lillywhite, Mo O'Hara (and can someone remind me of the name of the woman on the right? I'm so awful with names).

In front of Minet Library: bookseller Adriana at Pea Green Boat Books, Jo Franklin, Mo O'Hara and me.

Thanks so much to Stuart for coming with me! Well done to the Carnegie Library occupiers and everyone who's put time into the protests, and I hope the pressure to SAVE LIBRARIES continues!

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25. sketchbook social on thursday!

My lovely agent Jodie Hodges just tweeted me this picture from The Bookseller at London Book Fair today!

The photo of me was from a party to launch London Book & Screen Week, which runs parallel with the book fair. Here's a video they took of me to promote Thursday evening's Sketchbook Social, which should be lots of fun, with illustators you'll know of doing live drawing battles, and time to ask questions and chat. Be sure to bring your own sketchbook so you can draw, too! You can book tickets here.

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